Category Archives: Handguns

Exclusive: Regrets!

Most gun owners have a story or two of regret, usually the result of ridding themselves of a beloved firearm. Call it “seller’s remorse” or whatever, why anyone would sell a beloved firearm, I don’t know. But I think “beloved” at times gets redefined or at least reprioritized as we go through life. A variety of factors can contribute to this: Sometimes finances get tight and something’s gotta go to help pay a bill. Sometimes we are wooed by other firearms and something’s gotta go to pay for the cost of the new gun. Sometimes it is just sheer foolishness. One of my stories of regret is the day I got rid of my Smith & Wesson K-22 Masterpiece. I’d like to think it was out of necessity but it was probably just foolish.

How I Got It

3 I’ve always enjoyed firearms and shooting but didn’t really get into it until after graduating from college, when, not surprisingly, I could actually afford to purchase firearms and ammunition. I had already inherited from my grandfather a beautiful Remington .308 semi-auto hunting rifle. Unfortunately, I could never get out to hunt to actually use it. And I wanted a handgun. And a friend wanted my Remington. And he was willing to part with his K-22 in order to get it. So, we traded, straight up. He got a fantastic rifle. I got the K-22, in excellent condition, in the original box, with the original manual and owner documents, and even with the original wax wrapping paper. I was thrilled to get the K-22 but someday I’ll write the article about how I wished I had never parted with that Remington rifle.

The K-22 provided years of faithful service, firing .22 bullets down many a range with incredible accuracy. Credit the six-inch barrel, super-smooth trigger action, and easy-to-see iron sights that never needed adjusting. I plinked away in single action, easily hitting empty shotgun shells, one after the other, at over 10 yards. I fired in double action, putting all six rounds into a paper plate at over 30 yards. I cut smiley faces into paper targets, shot through the same quarter-sized hole, round after round, and shattered clay pigeons placed against plywood at the outdoor range. After firing 60 or 70 rounds I would wipe the gun down and do it all again. Afterwards, cleaning the K-22 always resulted in a beautiful, shiny metal handgun with wood target stocks that was perfect in every detail and a true classic.

How I Let it Go

2Soon, I became interested in concealed carry and my home state of Michigan became a “shall issue” state. Even though six rounds of .22 in a full-sized steel revolver with a six-inch barrel is better than nothing for a carry gun, I wasn’t about to carry the K-22. I wanted something smaller with a bit more punch and settled on another classic: A Smith & Wesson 642 — an aluminum-alloy framed .38 Special built on the smallish J-frame. It weighed only 15 ounces, sported a 1.875-inch barrel and carried five rounds of +P. Perfect.

Except I didn’t have the money to purchase it. What I did have was an old 7mm Mauser rifle and the beloved K-22 Masterpiece. I visited my local gun dealer who offered me hardly anything for both of them. Convinced that the S&W 642 would easily win the practicality test, I handed over the Mauser, the K-22, and chipped in some additional cash. The 642 came home with me.

The Aftermath

1Not many range sessions have gone by where I haven’t wanted that K-22. And not just for myself. I’ve had the privilege of introducing several young people to firearms and shooting and every time wished I had the K-22 to start them off. Yes, other firearms can fill that first-gun role, but not as well, especially not for younger shooters who struggle to keep a heavy stainless steel S&W 686 revolver aimed at a target or, unless they’re a bit older and stronger, to rack the slide on a Glock.

The 642 was a nice gun, of course, and fairly accurate for a snubbie. But, being so light in weight, it quickly became tedious to shoot for more than, say, 25 or 30 rounds. Sure would be nice to have that smooth, old six-shooter .22 back… Ironically and regrettably, the 642 is no longer with me, either. I foolishly traded it in for another gun. But that’s another story.

What firearms do you regret letting go?

— Mark Kakkuri

Get more information on Smith & Wesson and other firearms related companies at the GUNS Magazine Product Index.

Exclusive: DeSantis Scorpion Holster Review

For the concealed carry of a handgun I generally regard plastic holsters as those to be used when I need to put a holster on or off quickly and more than once per day. In other words, I’m usually not planning on wearing a plastic holster for a significant amount of time — surely not all day. But that’s exactly what I did when I tried on the DeSantis Scorpion to carry a Kimber Super Carry Pro. Yes, this massive piece of plastic fits inside the waistband and comfortably carried that 1911 almost all day long.


“Plastic” is a broad, generic term for the material that’s used in making some holsters today. In the case of the Scorpion, it’s actually Kydex, a custom combination of materials that is rugged, durable, and formable and often used in holster manufacturing. The Scorpion’s construction is nothing short of robust. No part of it feels weak or thin; in fact, it feels so strong that, until you put it on, you think it can’t possibly be comfortable to wear. More on that in a minute.

des2 - CopyThe Scorpion is comprised of two panels of Kydex — one that forms the body side or back of the holster and the other that forms the front side of the holster. The two pieces are custom formed to hold a handgun in between and attached together with strong rivets. Two very strong belt loops are affixed to the front of the holster for inside the waistband carry.


Installing the Scorpion on your person takes a few seconds, some tugging and shifting of shirts or pants, an adjustment of the belt, and so forth. It’s not quite a struggle to get it on but it takes some work. Once the Scorpion is riding at about 3 or 4 o’clock, slide the pistol into it and it’ll seat, held in place by the friction of the two Kydex panels in front and in back of it. The Scorpion carries the Kimber Super Carry Pro at a slight forward cant, which put the bobtail up and near my right side, helping to conceal it.

The Scorpion’s design puts all that Kydex in a natural curve around your hip and, while you know it’s there, you’ll be surprised that you don’t feel more of it. Standing, walking, sitting are all very possible with the Scorpion but the rigid Kydex will quickly let you know the new limits to your range of motion with a pressing feeling in leg or hip. Admittedly, this holster takes some getting used to and became more comfortable as time wore on. I could move or function with the Scorpion as I do with most other gun/holster combinations.


des3 - CopyWhile installing it takes some work, the resulting ability to easily carry and draw the Kimber seemed worth the effort. The holster offers an accessible combat grip with no fuss in letting the gun clear the holster during deployment. And, being the firm design that it is, the Scorpion allows for easy one-handed re-holstering if needed. Finally, it’s easier to remove the Scorpion than it is to install it: Remove the gun and render it safe and then pull the front tab off your belt and then the back tab and then slide it out. Done.

Available in right or left-handed models in black, the DeSantis Scorpion retails for $67.99.

What’s your experience with plastic holsters?

— Mark Kakkuri

Get more information on DeSantis and other firearms related companies at the Guns Magazine Product Index.

Exclusive: S&W 686 — Classic Defined

The Smith & Wesson 686 is a C-L-A-S-S-I-C. Here’s why:

C – Calibers: .38 Special and .357 Magnum

These multipurpose cartridges have been around for a long time and show no signs of kowtowing to other calibers that are, what, half their length. Available in everything from target loads to personal defense loads to hunting loads, both .38 Special and .357 Magnum rounds offer outrageous versatility. Fired from the S&W 686, the .38 Specials register only the slightest of recoil. The .357 Magnums, however, thunder and roar, but keep you coming back for more.

L – Long DA and Light SA Trigger Stroke

You’ll be hard pressed to find a better DA/SA trigger stroke in any gun. The S&W 686 double action stroke is long, somewhat heavy, but amazingly smooth. Still, you can double tap steel silhouettes with terrific effectiveness. Because the sheer size and weight of the gun absorbs some of the recoil, you’re back on target easily. Click the hammer back for a single action stroke and you’re rewarded not only the pleasing sound and feel of highly engineered internal mechanisms aligning and locking in place but also with a legendarily easy press to break the sear and fire, affording greater accuracy.

A – Accurate


A four-inch barrel is meant more for defensive or combat purposes than accuracy but the accuracy you do get from a four-inch S&W 686 only adds to its effectiveness in any situation. In other words, where you aim, you hit. The windage-adjustable rear notch and red ramp front sight provide a time-proven means for putting bullets on targets at a variety of distances. With a little practice, you can easily ring steel silhouette targets at 65 yards distance shooting double action.

S – Stainless Steel

Stainless is not no-maintenance but it is much lower maintenance than regular blued steel. Plus it looks great. Shiny and durable, you can subject it to fairly harsh conditions without fear of any significant wear or harm. In a world dominated by black plastic pistols, the big stainless revolver makes a stunning statement no matter where it is deployed.

As an all steel gun, it is heavy (39.7 ounces) and feels solid. It’ll eat .357 Magnum rounds all day long, reliably sending the bullets down range the same way every time. Pop open the cylinder and smack the ejector rod and empty cases drop away. All the parts work together in perfect harmony, a masterpiece of metallic beauty.

S – Sure

Many people love revolvers because they are inherently reliable. Sure, a revolver can have problems but the vast majority of them are mitigated by doing the most natural thing — squeezing the trigger again. For the person interested in arming himself or herself who can only invest in the most minimal training and practice, a revolver is a sure thing. Pick it up or draw it, squeeze the trigger, and it fires. To fire again, squeeze the trigger. If a round fails to fire, squeeze the trigger again.

I – Introductory and Intelligent

A revolver’s ease and surety of use makes it a good choice for a beginning shooter who is just learning the basics. Basic ballistics and safety matters can be made more clear with a revolver and having to stop and reload after only six or so rounds allows for a smart break in which a shooter can correct any problems without getting carried away. But the 686 is also a good choice for an experienced shooter who wants to maximize a myriad of factors, including the recipes for his hand loads, trigger stroke practice, and more.

C – Customizable

What else can you do with such a basic gun? Plenty. Adjust the sights for longer range shooting … install a mount and scope for target shooting or hunting … Stagger the kinds of rounds to be fired for maximum defensive efficiency … Swap the stocks for any number of other stocks that emphasize target shooting, combat effectiveness, conceal-ability, or just downright good looks.

The Smith & Wesson’s classic 686 retails for $829 and the Smith & Wesson website suggests its best uses are “recreational, home protection, and professional / duty.”

How would you use it?

— Mark Kakkuri

“The Finest Revolver Ever Made…”

S&W’s Triple Lock Combined Many “Firsts” In
Less Than A Decade Of Production.

“In 1907 Smith & Wesson brought out the Triple Lock, perhaps the finest revolver ever manufactured anywhere, at any time. Today no example of finer revolver making is to be had.” Those words are found in the classic Sixguns written by the great Elmer Keith, who for many years served as Shooting Editor of GUNS Magazine. S&W had actually dubbed it the “New Century” revolver, and some collectors refer to it as the “.44 Hand Ejector, First Model,” but Triple Lock was the name which stuck.


When the Triple Lock was introduced, telephones looked like this.


Recoil of .44 Special Silvertip is mild in the big old Smith.

Because Smith & Wesson Could

In the book Smith & Wesson 1857-1945 (Barnes, 1966) Robert Neal and Roy Jinks say, “Most authorities believe the third lock provided on this model was put there by Smith & Wesson more as an example of the ultimate in precision machine work than as a necessary item for extra strength.”

If so—as seems likely—it would not have been the only time in Smith & Wesson’s history they added a feature more cosmetic than intrinsically useful, simply to showcase the machining skill of which they were capable. In 1935, they checkered the top-strap of the frame of their deluxe .357 Magnum revolver, a feature continuing throughout what later came to be called their Model 27 series. The Triple Lock in 1907, and the Registered Magnum and the Model 27 later, were the flagships of the fleet: the finest, most expensive revolvers Smith & Wesson produced at the given time.


Mas is comfortable firing modern .44 Special loads in the old gun’s massive cylinder.
This is Winchester Silvertip. The old Triple Lock is still accurate after more than a century.


The third lock consisted of a block on the yoke (1) mating to a stud at the bottom
rear of the ejector shroud (2). All three locks were unlatched by pushing forward
on the cylinder release latch.


Mas’ early production Triple Lock .44 Special with 6.5-inch barrel,
also sporting rare factory target sights.


According to Jim Supica and Richard Nahas in The Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson, the Triple Lock was primarily chambered in the round it was made for, the .44 Special, to the tune of 13,753 guns. Some were produced in .45 Colt (which Keith called the finest double-action revolver ever made in that caliber), though sources differ on the exact number so chambered. Much smaller numbers were made in other calibers, including .44-40, .38-40 and even a very few allegedly in .22 Long Rifle. More than 1,200 were produced in .455 for the Brits, and therein lay the beginning of the end of the Triple Lock.

Embroiled in the trench warfare of WWI, England wanted more S&W .455s, but feared the ejector rod housing and the precisely-machined third lock would become a trap for gun-jamming mud. They ordered thousands more, but insisted those two features be done away with. They were, and the Second Model .44 Hand Ejector had neither, resembling an enlarged .38 Special Military & Police and becoming essentially the shape of the famous 1917 model. The change came in 1915, when the Triple Lock was discontinued. Popular demand would eventually bring limited production of the Third Model, the 1926 Hand Ejector .44 with the ejector shroud back, but the Triple Lock was gone for good. It would return in much different form, by different name, in the 21st Century with a ball-detent crane lock on the X-frame .500 and .460 revolvers.

In less than a decade of production the Triple Lock had set a high-water mark for revolver quality. In 1916 in Sweetwater, a Triple Lock saved the life of famed Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, killing his assailant with a single .44 Special slug fired weak hand only because Hamer had been wounded in the gun-side shoulder at the opening of the ambush. Generations to come would thank the designers of the Triple Lock for paving the way for some of the finest handguns the world has ever seen.
By Massad Ayoob

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Handguns And Lights

This Is The ERA of the light-mounted handgun.
It’s a fine answer to some things—but not for Every Situation.

Handguns with effective lights mounted to them have been with us for a quarter century or so. They have caught on big time with police. Once they were the exclusive province of SWAT teams and K9 officers, the latter because with one hand on the dog’s lead and the other on a pistol, only an octopus would have enough extra limbs to wield a separate flashlight. Today, many departments are making the light-attached pistols standard for patrol officers, and even more leave it up to the cop as a personal choice.

You don’t need much time on the range in the dark to realize how much easier it is to shoot and hit fast with the light on the gun and both hands dedicated to controlling the pistol. Though it adds more bulk, a combined light-laser unit can be even more effective. You just have to remember the hold-off; the laser beam is usually way below the muzzle, requiring a deep 6 o’clock hold for that projecting dot.

Armed citizens have picked up on the concept too. Back around 1990, I rigged out a dedicated home-defense pistol: a Beretta 92FS with 20-round magazine, night sights, a Bill Jarvis action job and a 6-inch Bar-Sto barrel with the part beyond the slide Magna-Ported. It ran 115-grain CorBon JHP +P at about 1,400 fps, and kicked like a .380. It was fitted with a dedicated SureFire Weaponlite, big by today’s standards, but powerful and perfectly functional to this day. Today, with light rails standard or at least optional on most service-size pistols, I just slide a small X-series SureFire or its equivalent onto my primary carry gun du jour at bedtime.


A light/laser combination is extremely “shootable.” A Streamlight
TLR-4 is seen here on SIG P226 with TruGlo TFO sights.

We even have CCW holsters for light-mounted pistols now. In the winter (when there’s more dark) I can often be found wearing one or another Glock with a SureFire X-series light inside my waistband in a “hybrid” Black Mamba holster by Jason Christianson at Concealment Solutions. When adjusted with enough forward tilt to hide a full-size Glock’s butt, the flashlight portion protrudes slightly at the area of the gluteus maximus. Discretion is a huge part of concealed carry, and at my age, I’m expected to have a fat butt anyway. Better for that to bulge than the gun’s butt, I figure.

If you want something more compact, consider the Crimson Trace Lightguard unit. It won’t give you the light output of the bigger units, but in an appropriately sized holster it will conceal more easily and perhaps even more comfortably.

The thing every user has to bear in mind is, it is dangerous to use the gun’s light for “routine” searches! This is for the simple reason that everything the light points at, the gun points at. Some academies teach “floor flood” use of the gun-mounted light, on the theory the powerful beam pointed at the floor in a low ready position will still illuminate a human who isn’t supposed to be there. That will work fine right up until we actually see a person, in which case instinct will tell us to bring the beam up to fully illuminate him, which means the gun is dead on him. If it turns out to be your own teenager sneaking in after curfew, or your unexpected mother-in-law who never much liked you anyway, or the plumber your spouse let in while you were napping, you’ve just technically committed the felony of aggravated assault by pointing a gun at that person.


It’s better to have both a handheld and weapon light than either/or. Here a separate unit
(Aviator), and one (X200) on a 20-shot Springfield XD(M), both lights by SureFire.


Mas’ Glock 19 with an attached SureFire light conceals well
in the Black Mamba IWB holster from Concealment Solutions.

Point a gun at the thug who just kicked down your door, something the law calls “violent and tumultuous entry”? No problem. Most cops will hope you point a gun at him anyway. You’re a cop searching a business where the alarm just went off? No problem: suspected burglars are generally captured at gunpoint anyway when caught in the act. But for the “bump in the night,” it’s an extremely bad idea to search with a light-mounted gun. Have a regular flashlight at hand to search; if you identify a criminal intruder, that’s the time to drop the hand-held (or pocket it, if there’s time) and spotlight him with the light-mounted handgun.

I teach my students the light on the gun is analogous to the scope on a hunting rifle. Countless lives have been saved when the hunter who thought he saw a deer put the scope to his eye and his magnification showed him in time the “target” was actually a human. By the same token, many tragedies have undoubtedly been prevented when the light beam on the cop’s drawn gun showed him the suspect had pulled out an iPhone, not a pistol. But we all know the stupidity of the guy who scans for game with his telescopic sight instead of his binoculars, pointing a gun at every other person who comes into his field of view. Something similar occurs when the light on a loaded firearm is used to replace a handheld light for a search in the darkness with no threat yet identified.

The pistol-mounted light gives us a tactical advantage, but it supplements, rather than replaces, the separate handheld illumination that has served so well for so long as an adjunct to the defensive handgun.
By Massad Ayoob

Concealment Solutions
438 E. 1910 S.
Orem, UT 84058
(385) 208-8914

Crimson Trace
9780 SW Freeman Dr.
Wilsonville, OR 97070
(800) 442-2406

Streamlight Inc.
30 Eagleville Road
Eagleville, PA 19403
(610) 631-0600

18300 Mt. Baldy Circle
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
(800) 828-8809

710 Presidential Drive
Richardson, TX 75081
(972) 774-0300

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Handguns And Gloves

It ain’t just another day at the range WHEN YOU’RE only shivering.
There are multiple things to be concerned with in cold weather handgunning.

I’m writing this in a northern city in winter, where wind chills have recently gotten below zero and are predicted to get worse. Fortunately, having spent most of my life in northern New England, I’m reasonably well prepared for the cold.

As a young part-time cop in New Hampshire, I learned early on an emergency would keep me out of my nice, warm patrol car for very long periods. Whether it was a roadside accident in a howling blizzard or a manhunt in the snow, you had to make a decision about your hand and your gun. The decision was a stark one: gloved hand or frozen hand?


Mas finds the Glock pistol amenable to the gloved hand.
It should be, having been designed for the Austrian Army.


An arrow shows where glove material has caught in a notch at the top of this revolver’s
trigger, preventing the trigger from returning fully after the first shot.

The Gloved Hand

The first thing I learned was a glove warm enough to be worthy of its name in arctic-level cold was also thick enough to be incompatible with the double-action revolvers that were standard issue then. The thick glove material surrounding the index finger so filled the triggerguard you’d get the first shot off fine, but the trigger might not return for the next, turning your 6-shooter into a single-shot. When the trigger is all the way back on most double-action revolvers, glaringly so on the Colt, it exposed a sharp little “V” that tended to bite into the top of the glove’s finger and catch.

The 1911 pistol, and other autoloaders with small triggerguards, may present another problem. With a long single-action trigger, there isn’t much space between the trigger face and the front of the triggerguard. Thick glove material, particularly on a big hand with thick fingers, can start pressing rearward on the trigger without the shooter noticing as soon as the finger enters the guard.

It didn’t take very long to figure out a traditional double-action auto made more sense for a gloved hand. After the first shot, the trigger would stay back in single action so the trigger reset problem was off the table. It was no trick for the gloved thumb to manipulate the decocking lever on a Beretta, SIG, S&W or Ruger pistol so designed. It turns out the Austrian Glock, conceived in a country that understood ski troops, also had a large enough triggerguard to be compatible with a gloved finger. Ditto the similar striker-fired duty pistols which followed it including the S&W M&P and the Springfield Armory XD series.

The alternative to a gloved hand is a frozen hand, and trying both, I quickly came to prefer a warm glove on a shooting hand. If there was time to whip the glove off before going for the pistol, fine. If not, I made a point of spending substantial time shooting with winter gloves on. Yes, the glove takes some sense of touch away from the trigger finger, but cold-numbed hands take away more. It happens quickly in deep cold, and more quickly with severe wind chill factor.


If there’s no time to get gloves off before you have to draw, you want to know
how the gun will run. This SIG P227 is shown in a Leather Arsenal IWB holster.


A traditional double-action auto like this SIG P227 works well in a gloved hand.
A curled-down thumb guarantees thick glove material can’t put friction on slide.

Other Considerations

Do you shoot with a high thumb grasp? Make sure you’ve tried it with your thickest winter gloves with live fire! You won’t necessarily be able to feel it, but thick glove material may now be pressing laterally against the slide. It didn’t bind in the bare hand, but that friction introduced by the glove may be just enough to induce a stoppage now. Only testing with those gloves, that gun and that ammo will determine whether there’s a problem or not.

Do you close your slide during an emergency reload by thumbing the slide stop or racking the slide? I prefer the former, but I make sure I can do it with gloves on. Some people can’t. You want to find out now, and if it’s a problem, switch to the slide-rack method for closing the slide.

Here’s something counterintuitive. You’d think since the glove makes your hand bigger, the gun should feel smaller. In reality, it’s just the opposite. Your hand is holding the pistol and, literally, a handful of glove material. It basically makes the grip bigger. There can also be hand slippage/glove slippage in the interface between shooter and pistol. This exacerbates felt recoil and its effects. As a rule of thumb, I discovered with the gloves on, a 9mm kicked like a .40 and a .45 ACP with standard-pressure loads felt as if I was shooting .45 +P. A crushingly hard grasp is indicated when shooting with gloves on.

There are those of us who tailor caliber choice to, among other things, weather. I’ve always preferred a .45 in serious cold. Any hollowpoint can plug when it goes through the heavy clothing—Carhartt, Fiberfill—whatever the opponent is likely to be wearing in winter. Plugged bullets may not expand. If mine might turn into flatnose ball, I want them to turn into a big flatnose ball, hence the .45-caliber preference.

I’ve put my time in on the range with gloves on. I’m wearing a SIG SAUER P227 (see this month’s cover story for my review), a traditional double-action auto loaded with 11 rounds of jacketed hollowpoint .45 ACP. When I step out into the windswept frozen urban wasteland tonight, I’ll be as ready as I can be.

If there’s something more dangerous than frostbite waiting for you out there in the cold, I hope you’re ready, too.
By Massad Ayoob

The Leather Arsenal
27549 Middleton Road
Middleton, ID 83644
(208) 585-6212

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Shark Week

If you ever need to defend yourself with a handgun,
there may be things you’ll have to explain to your attorney.

Last month, I was an attendee and lecturer at a Firearms Law Symposium put on for attorneys by a state bar association. One of the other speakers mentioned that on the firearms-related Internet, there’s a meme to the effect that “a good shoot is a good shoot.”

One hundred eighty lawyers responded with a roll of laughter.

They knew the reality. All any other lawyer has to say is, “This is my theory of the case,” and however far from plausible reality it may be, it is treated as if it could be every bit as valid as the truth that your side is desperately trying to get across to the triers of the facts. I’ve discussed these things with a heckuva lot of lawyers, all tell me they don’t teach guns and dynamics of violent encounters in law school.

I remember the defense lawyer who called me desperately just before closing arguments in a murder case to ask if it was true that for a semi-automatic pistol to fire X number of shots, its slide would have to be manipulated the same X number of times? Because that was what the prosecutor had just told the jury in his close, to convince them each shot had been a deliberate, cold-blooded preparation to murder. I can show you multiple cases where juries convicted the defendant out of what was clear-cut self-defense, at least in part because prosecutors had convinced them the defendants’ use of hollowpoint bullets was “indicia of malice,” and clueless defense lawyers didn’t know how to defuse such explosive BS and show the juries they were being lied to.


Mas lectures on defense of shooting cases at Texas Bar Assn.
seminar. Photo courtesy: Texas State Bar Association

Swimming With Sharks

It’s common parlance to equate lawyers with sharks. Some of them do it themselves. I’ve been an expert witness for courts around the country in weapons and deadly force cases since 1979, and still do my share of them. I can point you to a beautiful and brilliant woman who has practiced law for many years, killed many unmeritorious cases (“unmeritorious” being the legal term for BS) and who has a smiling shark logo hanging on the “shingle” outside her law office. It’s understood lawyers, like sharks, are very powerful, often work on instinct and habit and can do a great deal of damage.

I understand there’s a TV channel that annually offers “shark week” with several days of shark documentaries. Do I need to watch this stuff? I’m writing this on a Thursday, and just on Monday I told a lawyer friend, “I’m living Shark Week.”


When you’re shooting as fast as these students, but in self-defense, a bad guy
can turn into the gunfire faster than you can stop firing, resulting in shots
in his back. Smart lawyers know how to explain this in court.


Were seven rounds of JHP from a Ruger .45 justifiable? Yes, Mas helped the
defense counsel prove in February ’13. The first-degree murder trial ended
in acquittal on all charges.

Shark Week

Monday. Pre-deposition conference with a lawyer from the side who hired me. Very sharp guy. He specializes in defending cops who are wrongly accused of excessive force. We’re working for top cops on litigation that is policy-centric, not individual shooting case-centric. Turns out to be the same dynamics at work, though: The other side doesn’t seem to understand the reality of violent encounters.

Tuesday. Deposition. Opposing counsel is a very sharp lady, and in the course of a long and strenuous day, I think, comes to realize she has been assigned to fight a losing battle. It is the rare situation where the cops who hired me are the plaintiffs fighting a stupid gun-related thing which impairs protection of the public. I am confident of the outcome.

Tuesday continues. A good man who got shot through no fault of his own wants to sue someone who wasn’t at fault either. (The one who was at fault is dead from the same incident and can’t be sued.) I explain to the smart lawyer on the other end why I can’t take the case for him, and why his theory will never prevail. This compassionate attorney asks if I would be available to gently explain that to his client, the would-be plaintiff. I reply in the affirmative.

Tuesday has now gone well into the night. I get a call from the opposite coast from a lawyer representing a cop who, by the attorney’s précis (nutshell description of the case) basically needed to shoot. I tell him if the evidence bears out what he’s saying, I’ll take the case. Here, thank goodness, is a lawyer who I’ve worked homicide with before and who understands reality. I think it will come out in a way that serves justice.

Wednesday. Most of the day is spent at a homicide scene reenacting the shooting with the officer who pulled the trigger. Though the shooting was ruled justified by the local prosecutors, the chief has fired him. The cop is suing for reinstatement. I’ve already reviewed the department’s policy and the entire shooting investigation. Outcome looks good. This lawyer has done such cases before and knows what he needs to establish to achieve justice.

Wednesday night. Am having dinner with my sweetie when I get the call from defense counsel that a murder trial out West has been postponed for the umpteenth time. The prosecution is desperately delaying, apparently having realized they’ve misinterpreted the evidence, but unwilling to admit it and drop the charges. Confident we’ll win at trial, I can wait—the evidence clearly shows it was a justified homicide in reasonably perceived self-defense. Sad the prosecution can’t admit they’re wrong, but ego investment is strong.

Shark Week is over for me at last. I’ve spent Thursday shooting on the range, and my evening writing this column, basking in the happy fact that these are more BS-free environments.
By Massad Ayoob

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Off Balance!

Firing Your Handgun From Awkward Positions.

We all know the importance of a strong, well-balanced stance for good marksmanship. Unfortunately, we also know the need to fire in self-defense often finds us in awkward, off-balance positions. That makes it important for us to know beforehand how to shoot effectively in those circumstances.

I was reminded of this at the 2013 National Championships of IDPA, the International Defense Pistol Association, hosted at the fabulous US Shooting Academy range in Tulsa, Okla. When the smoke had cleared and my Team Panteao teammate Bob Vogel had shot the overall winning score yet again, he posted on Facebook, “I am thankful for a solid performance. Ninth year in a row I’ve shot the match, and overall I think this was the hardest.”


Mas has run to final position and uses Ray Chapman’s technique to maintain
cover as he shoots the last of the targets on Stage 13. He is up on the ball
of his right foot, shooting right-handed around left-side cover with a
Springfield XDM 5.25.

Height Of Cover

Friend and colleague Clint Smith advises his students that the fight won’t be what we might want it to be; the fight will be what it is. Available cover is seldom perfectly sized for the individual using it, so we have to adapt. In Stage 3 of the Nationals, “Dinner Disaster,” you came under fire from an attacking gang in a restaurant and had to draw while seated and shoot the nearest attacker, then flip over the table for whatever cover it afforded and engage the other bad guys at varying distances.

For tall folks and flexible folks, a high kneeling position worked fine for the latter portion. For shorter people and us inflexible folks, it didn’t work as well. The answer for many was the Cover Crouch, in which the feet go out wide into a karate practitioner’s “horse stance” and your pelvis comes down to about knee level. Not as stable as kneeling, but it’s faster and more adjustable to varying heights of cover, and gives you more mobility to scoot laterally. At the Nationals, this technique worked well for those who needed it and knew how to do it.


Michael Fiorenza (right-handed, as you can see by his holster) goes southpaw-only
to shoot the difficult airplane stage with his 1911. Beneath him is the “body of
the good guy from whom he retrieved the gun.”

Angle Of Cover

In the old days, if you were taking cover behind a big tree or the corner of a building, you were taught to shoot left-handed around left-side cover and right-handed around the right side. Over the years, most of us “in the business” came to realize that few things violated human instinct more than putting a dexterity-intensive tool into the less-dexterous hand when fighting for one’s life in raw survival mode.

The late, great ex-Marine, ex-cop, and world combat shooting champion Ray Chapman came up with a great technique for shooting strong-hand around weak-hand-side cover more than a half-century ago. You keep the gun in the strong hand. Your weak side foot indexes main body mass behind cover, and you put your weight on that leg as you come up on the ball of the other, “inside” foot. This pushes enough head and upper body out from behind cover to aim and fire. You’re sacrificing a bit more head and torso exposure to gain faster, surer hits on your target. Right-handed shooters were all put into this situation for every shot in Stage 13, titled “Wrong House,” which many of us jokingly suggested must have been designed by a southpaw.


Jim Martin shoots from cover crouch over best cover available,
a flipped-over table, with his Glock 34.

Contorted Positions

I’ve debriefed two gunfight survivors, a New York cop and a security guard, who each had to kill their opponent firing from the ground, weak hand only, after they were down with wounded dominant arms. That hadn’t been in their training or qualification curricula. “Bad things happen to good people.” My first event in the match was Stage 13, “Leaving On A Jet Plane.” You are in a right-side window seat when four terrorists take over the aircraft. They stab the Federal Air Marshal, who falls at your feet. The terrorist who stabs him reaches for the dropped gun lying on the Marshal’s chest, which oddly enough is identical to your own. At the start signal, you stab the killer in the chest with your Tactical Pen, then snatch up the gun and nail his three cohorts, who are in positions spread over almost 180 degrees… and you’re not allowed to stand up.

The more flexible among us stayed strong hand, many using 2-hand holds, to accomplish this task. Those who didn’t fit that profile, including yours truly, grabbed the gun left-hand only. This allowed us to hold onto a seat with the right hand for balance, and more quickly get shots on the relatively close but very wide-spread, multiple targets. “Different strokes for different folks.”

I’ve run out of space without being able to cover some other examples in the 17-stage course of fire, but suffice to say Champion Bob Vogel was right—it was a heck of a challenge. IDPA matches are probably within striking distance of you. The scenarios will put you in places you don’t want to be… but places you’ll be glad you’ve been in before with a gun in your hand, if you ever find yourself there for real.
By Massad Ayoob

2232 CR 719
Berryville, AR 72616
(870) 545-3886

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A Look At Sights

Gunsight Preference Is Highly Individualistic.
Let’s Consider some factors.

Any tool has to be chosen primarily for its suitability to the task it is expected to perform. But there are other factors in the selection process we can’t ignore. Two of them are particularly subjective: vision and personal habituation.

I just got home from a month on the road, teaching a class a week. The guns I had with me were 1911 Nighthawk pistols. One is a full size, 5-inch barrel 9mm Falcon with red fiber optic front sight and black square notch rear, which I’m trying out for competition. The other is a T3 .45 compact with 4.25-inch barrel and Heinie Straight Eight night sights, which has been my carry gun for the tour. The 9mm is strictly a match gun, with a 3-pound trigger pull perfectly tuned by Bob Houzenga. The .45 is out of the box, its pull going 4.4 pounds on a Lyman gauge.

Logic says the 9mm, with its longer sight radius and lighter recoil, should have been the most accurate in the same shooter’s hands. However, on 60-shot qualification courses, I consistently grouped tighter with the .45. My .45 groups were running an inch or more tighter than those with the 9mm, and benchrest testing showed me the difference wasn’t in the guns.

I’ve been shooting plain black-on-black, post-in-notch sights for more than 50 years, and habituation may certainly have something to do with it. Since the ’80s, my duty guns have worn night sights, including the last three .45s I was issued by the police departments I served. That’s generally the arrangement I prefer on my personal concealed carry guns, too. Over the years, I’ve habituated to aligning the glowing dots in dim light, and ignoring them in daylight to take the silhouetted post-in-notch sight alignment I learned from the marksmanship manuals as a kid in the 1950s.

Shooting a Qualifier in Maryland with the Nighthawk 9mm with fiber optics (above), Mas’ group is roughly 6 inches for 60 shots, one almost escaping the 8-inch center zone of the IDPA target. Shooting the same qualifier course in Connecticut, 2 weeks later (below) Mas’ shot a much tighter 4.375-inch group with the shorter-barrel Nighthawk T3 .45 and Heinie night sights (ASAA target).

I find I can’t do that with fiber optic in daylight. The glaring brightness of the colored front sight dot overpowers the silhouette of the front post and the rear notch. The result, at least for me, seems to be less precise sight alignment. Of course, for very close and fast work where I’m really just indexing on the front sight anyway, that bright fiber optic comes into its own.

Vision. Habituation. Both highly dependent on the individual shooter, which is why what works for me, may not work for you, and vice versa.

For very fast, close shooting another worthy option is the XS “express” sight, a humongous big globe over a very shallow “V”-shaped rear sight with a central line in the middle. I’ve seen some folks who can make that work very well for accuracy at distance, and at least two of my students have placed “top shot in class” with XS sights over the years. I have the XS Big Dot on my favorite backup gun, the J-frame S&W Model 340 M&P revolver, largely because the front sight is mated in that model alone with a proportionally large square rear sight. It allows head-shot accuracy at 25 yards which I for one can’t achieve with the “lollipop sight picture” of the XS rear sight, but is just as fast as the “express” style in close. Best of both worlds. And I’ve written here before of the Tactical Advantage sight, which shows your eye a pyramid with bright slopes on the rear sight and a different bright color comprising the top.

Sight choices are personal and depend on your eyes and willingness to learn the systems.
Systems include (left to right) the XS Big Dot sight on a S&W 340 M&P, fiber optic front
on Nighthawk Falcon and Trijicon front on Nighthawk T3.

Heinie Straight Eight night sights, seen here on the Nighthawk T3, work for Mas
and gives him visible sighting, day or night. “Your mileage may vary.”

The best express sight shooters I’ve seen told me it took them a lot of shooting to get comfortable with the concept. I needed a few hundred rounds to get to where I was winning IDPA matches with the Tactical Advantage sights on a Glock 17. Habituation is a critical factor.

Red-dot reflex sights? I never did get comfortable with red dot optical on match guns, and am still trying to bond with the new generation of compact ones for carry pistols; stay tuned to this space for more on that. But I know folks who swear by them for both purposes, and for handgun hunting, too.
The bottom line? It isn’t about theory. It’s about what works best for you. That may be determined by habituation, by eyesight, or by other factors. If you’ve chosen the sights you shoot best with, you’ve made the right decision for you.
By Massad Ayoob

Nighthawk Custom
1306 W. Trimble, Berryville, AR 72616
(877) 268-4867

49385 Shafer Ave., Wixom, MI 48393
(800) 338-0563

XS Sight Systems
2401 Ludelle, Fort Worth, TX 76105
(888) 744-4880

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Handguns: A Perspective From 50 Years Ago

Ah, The Good Old Days… Or Were They?

The 1963 Gun Digest provides a pleasant whiff of yesteryear. Reading it when it first came out, I was looking forward to soon being old enough to get my driver’s license. A Smith & Wesson Model 10 Military & Police .38 Special retailed for $65 in blue, and $70 in nickel. The fancier Model 15 Combat Masterpiece, in blue only but also available in .22, was $74. Only one company, Colt, made .45 1911s. The Government Model or Commander retailed for $82.50 new, and the elite National Match Gold Cup, for $125—the same as Colt’s deluxe Python .357 Magnum.

In the words of a band of my generation, the Grateful Dead, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” The Model 10 is now in S&W’s Classic line at $719 retail, and the Combat Masterpiece equivalent goes over a grand. By 2013 there were too many manufacturers of 1911 pistols to count with absolute certainty. Colt’s most economical iteration of the design is the Model 1991 at $900, and the top of the line Colt Special Combat Government Carry Model goes for $1,995, according to Gun Digest in 2013.

In 1963, this S&W Model 15 cost $74 new.

The year ’63 was not a banner year for new handgun models, except in the world of conventional bull’s-eye pistol shooting. Stagnant today, thanks to all the handgun sports which have drawn more action oriented shooters away from the round black bull’s-eye in fast modern times, conventional pistol was pretty much the only game in town back then.

The big news was Smith & Wesson’s Model 52 Master pistol. The great Gil Hebard tested it exhaustively for that edition of Gun Digest, and master reloader Kent Bellah did an in-depth companion article on reloading for that gun, which was designed to fire only flush-to-the-case-mouth .38 Special mid-range wadcutters. At a then-whopping $150, the 52 was a factory answer to the exquisitely accurate 1911s chambered for .38 wadcutter and custom-accurized by the great Jim Clark. Testing four Model 52s from a Potter machine rest at 50 yards, Hebard recorded an overall average of 2.612 inches at 50 yards—for 10-shot strings. These included one amazing cluster of 10 shots in 1.03 inches with Remington 148-grain wadcutters!

This absolutely trounced the Colt Gold Cup, which also came out in a .38 Special wadcutter version that year. For a long time, the Model 52 kicked butt in the Centerfire division of NRA pistol shooting. Alas, the Model 52 is no longer with us, nor its more versatile 9mm descendant, the Model 952 from S&W’s Performance Center.

Two milestones for High Standard occurred in 1963. One was the 5-inch bull barrel configuration for their exquisite Supermatic target pistol series. It was so popular you see it today in that gun’s descendants. The other was the only real new thing in defensive handguns that year, High Standard’s double-barrel derringer. With a cutaway triggerguard that would lead to the occasional negligent self-shooting down the road, it had a double-action pull and was chambered in .22 Long Rifle and .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire. It was popular as a hideout and backup gun for many years—the first pistol for which the modern “gun wallet” was created—and I can think of more than one case where it saved its user’s life. In 1963, it retailed for $29.95.

Browning brought out a line in 1963 that would last through today: an excellent line of .22 auto pistols.

Worn and with parts since replaced, this Colt National Match of the period
is still a perfectly functional .45 today shown with this 1963 Gun Digest.

Price Perspectives

1963 saw Colt introduce what was then its most expensive handgun model: the adjustable sight New Frontier single action, at $150. After a long hiatus, the New Frontier is now back at price $1,455. Perspective? From “Retroville 1963” at come the following average prices for that year. Car: $2,300. Gasoline: 30¢ per gallon. Postage Stamp: 4¢. Average Annual Salary: $6,998. Minimum Wage: $1.25 per hour.

That New Frontier is now a bit under 10 times 1963 cost. Postage stamps went up 11 times. A new Chevy Impala is more than 10 times the ’63 price. Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour at this writing, and I’ve paid over $4 a gallon for gas in Chicago recently.

Ammo? The recent “ammo drought” has blown comparisons all out of perspective. Gun Digest 1963 listed the following prices for 50-round boxes: .22 Long Rifle 80¢, .38 Special at $4.80 for Remington match wadcutter and $4.60 for 158-grain lead, .45 ACP FMJ for $6.55, 9mm FMJ for $6, .357 Magnum 158-grain for $5.45, and 240-grain .44 Magnum for $8.35. Do a quick price check at the gun shop today, and then do the math. For more perspective, a Hershey bar was 5¢ in 1963, and I paid $1.09 for one today.

Like Hershey’s chocolate, trips down memory lane are sometimes bitter, and sometimes sweet.

In 1963, a Hershey bar cost 5¢, and a 50-round box of .22 LR cost 80¢.
Today in 2013 the chocolate bar costs $1.09 and up to $10 for a box of .22s.

By Massad Ayoob

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